The Ogden Land Claim

The New York Indians And The Seneca Leases.

We regard the Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations, in their so called “government by their own council for these last years, as a notorious instance of the corruption and misuse of funds by Indians, to which we have referred above. The reports of committees of Congress, of inspectors, and of commissions, as well as facts presented by representatives of the council before the House Committee on Indian Affairs, give unquestionable evidence of such corruption. We last year urgently recommended the passage of a law requiring all lease moneys to be made payable to and recoverable by the United States Indian agent, to be by him paid to individual Indians; the agent being required to account for the same, and that such moneys be no longer payable to the council of the Indians, several of whose members and officers have been proved to have been systematically corrupt and dishonest for a period of years.

Such a bill (known as the Ryan Act) was passed at the last session of Congress and became a law. But its passage was delayed until after the beginning of the fiscal year for this lease system, and representatives of the Indian council have collected a part of the lease money for the current year. A recent letter from the New York Indian agent, says: “From what I can learn, I am of the opinion that the Seneca Nation treasurer collected a very large proportion of the rents for the year 1901 before the Ryan Act became operative.” Further efforts have been made by members of the Indian council and their representatives to prevent the carrying out of the Ryan Act, by obtaining an injunction restraining leaseholders from paying rents to the Indian agent, on the ground that the law referred to above, known as the Ryan Act, which required payments of lease money to the Indian agent, was unconstitutional. We cite this instance as one of many that might be given to illustrate the persistent abuse of the pretense of “government by council” on the part of the Indians. It should not be allowed to stand in the way of citizenship. Other “councils” have been quite as corrupt.

New York Indians Should Be Allotted In Severalty “The Ogden Land Claim.”

Further investigation and study of the status of the Seneca Indians upon the Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations, in the State of New York, has confirmed members of this board in the conviction that these Indians (and indeed all the Indians in the State of New York) should soon have land allotted them in severally, and, under general provisions like those of the Dawes Severally Act, should become citizens of the United States and of the State of New York, taking part in the duties, responsibilities, and privileges of such citizenship. The general provisions of the Dawes Severally Act, approved February 8, 1887, apply to the land of some of the Indians in the State of New York. The reservations of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians in the State of New York” was excepted from the general provisions of the Dawes Act. The last annual report of this Board contained as an appendix the report of a commission appointed in 1900 by Governor Roosevelt, of New York, to inquire into the status of the New York Indians with reference to allotment. A member of this board (the Hon. Philip C. Garrett, of Philadelphia) had several years before been appointed a special commissioner to investigate the Ogden Land Company’s claim and to report upon it. (See 23d report of this Board, for 1891, appendix.)

It is the opinion of this Board that although the Ogden land claim may have had in late years no marketable or negotiable value, it nevertheless in its present form constitutes a serious menace to a clean title for the Seneca Indians. It would doubtless be made the basis of prolonged litigation, disturbing and threatening, if not dispossessing, the Indians and any citizens who might lease or purchase from these Indians, were no attempt made to satisfy this claim. The claim is of long standing and represents something really and legitimately purchased. Opinions in the past have differed as to whether the equity in this claim was simply “the first right to purchase from the Indians whenever they should be willing to sell,” and was of no value unless the Indians should be willing to sell; or whether, on the other hand, the right acquired by the Ogden Land Company was of such a nature that whenever the Indians should cease to occupy the lands of this reservation in common and as a tribe, the title to the lands covered by the Ogden land claim would vest at once as a fee simple in the legal representatives of the Ogden Land Company.

We recognize the fact that unless that claim can be in some way satisfied and removed there will be every prospect of doubtful titles and prolonged litigation for both Indians and whites should allotment be undertaken before settling this claim.

Two members of this board, Messrs. Garrett and Gates, visited these reservations in June, 1901, and they are convinced that the best interests of the Indians require allotment as soon as possible. The thriving village of Salamanca, with a population of some 6,000, has grown up upon a part of the reservation affected b} T the Ogden land claim. The real estate in this village, is held by leases from the Seneca Nation. These leases have nearly ninety years still to run at the present rental value, with the privilege of renewal at the expiration of the ninety-nine year lease, at a revised rental. Valuable buildings have been erected and large business interests created and extensive improvements carried out upon the lands held by such leases. It is proposed b} T residents of Salamanca who have long studied the question that in order to make possible the allotment of land in severalty to the Indians, and also to enable the citizens of Salamanca and of other villages (whose tenure of land is only by similar leases, all alike affected by the Ogden land claim) to acquire ownership with due regard to the rights of the Indians, provisions something like the following should be enacted by law:

(1) That those who hold land by lease from the Seneca Indians should be authorized by law to purchase the land for which they now hold a lease by the payment for the benefit of the Indians of the Seneca Nation of a sum of money of which the present annual lease shall be 5 per cent. (This board is of the opinion that the sum for such a purchase should be at least a sum of which the present lease money is if, per cent rather than 5.) If the leases should be capitalized on the 4 per cent basis, it is estimated that the proceeds would amount to considerably more than the 1200,000, which representatives of the Ogden land claim are asking for the extinguishments of their claim.

(2) That before such capitalization of leases and before the allotment of the land of this reservation in severalty, the Secretary of the Interior should be authorized and directed to pay to the Ogden Land Company for the purchase and extinguishments, in the interest of the Seneca Indians, of the claim of that company, the sum of $200,000; and that before the leaseholders mentioned in the first paragraph could acquire a title to the land now held by leases each such leaseholder must pay, in addition to the sum agreed upon for the capitalization of the leases, an additional amount of money, which should be such a proportion of 1200,000 as the amount of land now leased by him bears to the whole amount of the Seneca land affected by the Ogden land claim. It has been estimated that this second provision for additional payment would yield about $20,000 of the $200,000 required. It is further proposed that the $200,000 required to purchase the Ogden land claim be set aside from the funds of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians and the Tuscarora Indians of the State of New York, which was appropriated by the act of Congress approved February 9, 1900, to pay a judgment of the Court of Claims in favor of the New York Indians, and be used by the Secretary of the Interior as above indicated to satisfy and remove the Ogden Land Company’s claim.

(3) After the claim of the Ogden Land Company shall thus have been purchased for the benefit of the Seneca Indians and the leaseholders shall have had conferred upon them by Jaw the right to purchase the lands they now hold, in accordance with the above provisions, it is proposed that these Indians should be allotted lands in severalty upon principles similar to those followed in the Curtis Act for allotment in the Indian Territory, viz, that in allotting each Indian should have allotted to him as far as possible the tract of land upon which his homestead stands, and so far as practicable the rest of his equal portion or value of land contiguous to his homestead; and that in receiving such allotment no Indian should be charged with the value of improvements he had himself made upon land which he owned and occupied by Indian title and custom, but each Indian should receive credit and compensation (from an equalization fund) for such interests as he had in the improvements on lands at the time of allotment occupied and held by him under Indian title, which may not be allotted to him, but to others.

While it has seemed to the Board that the question of the proportion to be paid by the town of Salamanca for the extinguishments of the Ogden land claim and the acquiring of the title by the white citizens to lands now leased by them from the Seneca Nation was a matter deserving of further consideration, and might properly be referred to a competent commission to be appointed (for a strictly limited period of service) by the President of the United States, it is our opinion that by some method, of which the above might serve as an outline, substantial equity could be secured for the Indians, the Ogden land claim could be extinguished, and citizens of the town of Salamanca could have the privilege of acquiring ownership, upon equitable terms, of the land which they occupy and have improved. By the allotting of the Seneca Indians, that “break” in the citizenship of the State of New York which has long been a blot upon the territory of the State, a blemish upon its civilization, and an injury to the Indians who are kept out of citizenship, might be speedily removed without injustice to any. We respectfully commend to Congress and to the Secretary of the Interior the consideration of some such plan as this.

The circumstances of the other Indians in the State of New York differ; and while most of them could be allotted at once under the general provisions of the severally act, the tenure by which their different reservations are held differs in certain respects, and the Indians of these different tribes are not all equally well fitted for citizenship. It is believed that the Tuscarora, for instance, are today as well prepared for citizenship, as are the average white citizens of the State of New York. Perhaps the Onondagas are nearly as well qualified to become citizens, and the “Christian Indians” among the Onondagas are reported to be strongly in favor of immediate allotment. We recommend speedy action looking to the allotment of all the New York Indians by a commission of high character, who will serve in part at least from philanthropic motives, and will carry out the work of allotment with due regard to the different conditions of these tribes of New York Indians, and to the peculiar needs and conditions of each reservation. And we recommend the fixing of a limited term of years for any such commission within which its work must be accomplished.


Board Of Indian Commissioners. Thirty-Third Annual Report Of The Board Of Indian Commissioners. Government Printing Office. 1901.

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